Hack: Defining Good Goals, Success, and Failure

Goal / Success Template
As I wrote earlier this week, I believe strongly in being intentional, but holding it lightly. These hacks help you do just that. (This is actually three hacks in one.) I have found this process invaluable for all of my projects, both individual and group.

Hack #1: Put your goal statement prominently at the top of all of your key documents. You’ll notice that I’ve done exactly that on all of my meeting templates. A prominent field at the top of every document will remind you to have a goal in the first place. A prominent filled-out field will remind you of what that goal is.

Hack #2: Define success (and failure) scenarios across a spectrum. (You can use my goal template for this.) The three categories I use are:

  • Minimum Success: The bare minimum indicators of a successful project.
  • Target Success: I also call this “stretch,” because these scenarios should be hard, but attainable. These are the scenarios for which you aim. They should have about a 40-70 percent likelihood of happening if you do your work diligently.
  • Epic Success: Success beyond your wildest imagination. You are not expecting any of these to happen, but they are within the realm of possibility, and you are overjoyed if they do.

I also discuss failure scenarios as a way of gut-checking the spectrum.

For a real-life example, here’s the spectrum I created for myself before attempting to officially launch Changemaker Bootcamp last August:

Minimum Success Target Success Epic Success
It happens. Need minimum of six enrollees showing up 4-6 times each. 6-8 enrollees. 12 enrollees! People already start inquiring / registering for January 2014 Bootcamp.
Regular blog posts. People engaged in website and process. Positive evaluations at the end. Participant assessments give them an accurate sense of how much progress they’re making. Three self-organized “workout” groups, including at least one not in Bay Area.

I had originally written “4 enrollees” under minimum success, but when I walked through my failure scenario, I realized that I would consider it a failure if I only got four, so I changed it to “6-8 enrollees.”

Going through this process as an individual exercise is fairly straightforward (although you have to be disciplined in actually doing it). Doing it with a group requires a much larger commitment, and it can be a lengthy process. Take the time to do it anyway. It’s well worth it.

Hack #3: Review your spectrum as part of your project debriefs. It is very easy to lose sight of your original goals throughout the course of a project, especially if the project is long and complex. The spectrum helps keep you grounded and focused. When you do your debriefs, be sure to start by reviewing your spectrum. If you’re doing a group debrief, review the spectrum together.

In the case of my official Changemaker Bootcamp launch last August, I wasn’t able to get six enrollees, one of my minimum success targets. A few people had wanted to enroll, but couldn’t make the dates. I tried to reschedule, but the space I had reserved wasn’t available for the new dates. According to my spectrum, the launch was a failure.

However, I felt confident that if I could just get enough participants, I could hit many of my success targets. I decided to launch another pilot (I had already done two up to that point), which permitted me to lower my standards a bit. I ended up getting five participants, I hit my other minimum target, and I was about 75 percent successful on the evaluations and assessments. I even partially hit one of my epic targets: Two separate workout groups self-organized, which shocked and delighted me!

When you’re doing something hard and meaningful, and when things aren’t going your ways, it’s easy to get morose and start beating yourself up or, worse, panic. My spectrum allows me to maintain a more objective perspective on how well things are going and on what adjustments to make.

Hack: Peer Appreciation Wall at Yammer

Part of an ongoing “Hack Series” — simple, actionable, replicable hacks that have helped foster high-performance collaboration in real-life situations.

Last week, I shared Yammer’s “Big Board” hack, which gives the entire company transparency on who’s working on what. This week, I want to share another Yammer hack: a peer appreciation wall.

As Yammer’s Director of User Experience, Cindy Alvarez, explains in the two-minute video above, the hack is simple: Give people an easy, low-tech way to record and share things they appreciate about their peers.

As with its Big Board hack, Yammer leverages physical space so that people see these appreciations all the time. The person who came up with this hack originally thought she needed to offer an external incentive (fresh popcorn) to encourage people to share, only to discover that people found the act of sharing these appreciations rewarding in and of itself.

At my previous company, we invented a game that evolved into a wonderful way to express how much we appreciated each other. Hacks like these simply surface what’s already there. They’re simple, but powerful.

As 2013 comes to a close, I would encourage all of you to find a simple way to express your appreciation of a peer. It could be as simple as dropping him or her a short email. As always when it comes to feedback, be specific!

Happy Holidays, thank you all for being part of my community, and see you in the New Year!

Hack: “Big Board” at Yammer and Microsoft

I firmly believe that a “hacker mindset” is critical for learning and improvement. Effective collaboration is more art than science. While the science is relatively straightforward, you need a willingness to experiment and play to master the art. This is the first of what I hope will be an ongoing “Hack Series” — simple, actionable, replicable hacks that have helped foster high-performance collaboration in real-life situations.

My friend, Cindy Alvarez, is the Director of User Experience at Yammer (now owned by Microsoft) and author of the upcoming book, Lean Customer Experience (April 2014). A few months ago, she invited me to talk with her team about what I’ve seen and learned over the years about collaborative cultures within companies.

Yammer is a collaboration tool for the enterprise. Think of it as a Twitter- or Facebook-like tool for your organization. Tools like Yammer are particularly good at enabling a culture of transparency within organizations, helping teams become more aware of what each other is doing.

However, organizations often resist this shift in culture, even if that’s why they bought the tool in the first place. Working “across silos” sounds great in theory, but it’s a very different way of working than most are familiar with. It means change, and people don’t like change, even if it would make things better in the long run.

In many ways, Yammer product designers (and even their engineers) are in the same business as me. They’re trying to help organizations become more collaborative. They happen to do this primarily through the design of their online tool. In order to design an effective tool, they use powerful methods for understanding how their customers think and feel and for measuring the impact of their interventions. Most process designers would do well to learn the tools of product design.

I had a wonderful conversation with Cindy’s team, and I particularly enjoyed the tour afterward. Yammer, the organization, embodies the culture it’s trying to instill in its customers. You can see this in every aspect of how it works, from its internal processes to its physical office space.

One of the brilliant hacks I saw there was what they call their “big board” (see the two-minute video above). In order to keep track of who’s working on what, they have giant magnetic whiteboards in a well-traveled hallway that list every project with every person in the company represented by a magnet. This has several important effects:

  • Everybody has a visceral sense of what the company is doing.
  • Everybody has a visceral sense of who’s at the company and what everyone else is working on.
  • Project managers can easily assess the impact that reassigning people would have on other teams.

This hack embodies the simple, but powerful principle that my mentors, Matt and Gail Taylor, espouse: Work big. Yammer is a technology company, but they’re using an old-fashioned, physical tool to increase performance across the company. It’s worked so well for them that Microsoft is now implementing the same practice.

As Cindy mentions in the video, Yammer is currently trying to implement a digital version of the tool to accommodate its growing distributed presence. It will be interesting to see whether or not a digital version can be as effective as its giant physical inspiration.